Canadian Blogs



Rocket Spaceflight Accurately Described by Scottish-Canadian Scientist in 1861

Posted October 4, 2015 by Chuck Black
          By Henry Stewart

William Leitch (ca. 1861). Image c/o The Space Library.

Author and space historian Robert Godwin has released a paper claiming primacy for Ontario in the historical space race.

His research credits the fifth principal of Queens University in Ontario, Presbyterian minister William Leitch (1814-1864), with being the first trained scientist to have applied scientific principles to accurately describe the rocket as the best device for travelling in space.

As outlined in Godwin’s paper, “The First Scientific Concept of Rockets for Space Travel,” which is available online for subscribers of the Space Library, Leitch first published his description of the principles of rocketry in an Edinburgh journal in 1861 and also included it in his 1862 book “God’s Glory in the Heavens.”

Previous histories of spaceflight have maintained that the first scientific concept for rocket-powered space travel was envisioned at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Robert Goddard, who both claimed Jules Verne as their inspiration.
But Godwin says William Leitch made his suggestion to use rockets four years before even Jules Verne’s famous “space gun.” 
According to Godwin:

There is no doubt in my mind that Leitch deserves a place of honour in the history of spaceflight. 

The fact that he was a scientist is the key to this story. He wasn’t just making a wild guess. Not only did he understand Newton’s law of action and reaction, he almost dismissively understood that a rocket would work more efficiently in the vacuum of space; a fact that still caused Goddard and others to be subjected to ridicule almost six decades later. 

And whereas Goddard and Tsiolkovsky got their first inspiration from the science fiction of Wells and Verne, Leitch seems to have been inspired by the advances in powerful telescopes, and the newly spin-stabilised military projectiles being manufactured in London, and Isaac Newton…

The first observatory at Queens, which William Leitch established in 1862. The current Queen’s Observatory houses a 14-inch reflecting telescope in a dome on the roof of Ellis Hall and is used primarily for student training and public demonstrations. Photo c/o The Space Library.

But Leitch’s proposals slipped through the cracks of history because he died at a young age and the copyright to his writings fell victim to the bankruptcy of his publisher in 1878. According to Godwin:

His suggestion to use rockets in space remained in print for over forty years, but his name had been stripped away from the work. The problem was compounded by the title of his book being changed at the last minute to remove all references to astronomy, which led to it languishing for 150 years in the theology section of libraries. 

But it was still in print when Goddard and Tsiolkovsky made their mark on the field. 

Leitch comprehended everything from the catastrophic implications of cometary impacts to the special relationship between light and time. He was a genius…

Leitch studied at the University of Glasgow in the same classroom as William Thomson, the legendary Lord Kelvin, and even assisted Kelvin in an experiment on electricity. In 1859 Leitch was appointed to the post of Principal of Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario. He died in Canada in 1864 and is buried near Canada’s first Prime Minister, whom he evidently knew.

According to Godwin, “he was buried on October 4th of that year: a date which has a certain resonance for space historians,” The first Sputnik was launched in 1957, exactly ninety three years after Leitch’s burial.

I also wonder what he would have thought of Elon Musk being a graduate of Queens,” Godwin continued, referring to the CEO of SpaceX, the United States’ leading space company.

A monument to Leitch at the Cataraqui Cemetery in Kingston, Ontario. He is buried near Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first prime minister. Photo c/o The Space Library.

Having preached in a parish near St Andrews in Scotland, Leitch’s children became early golf enthusiasts. Leitch’s granddaughter was the legendary golfing champion Cecilia Leitch.“William Leitch was an expert on ballistics and the effect of gravity on trajectories. It must have been in the DNA,” Godwin joked.
Critiques and comments on Godwin’s paper have been generally favorable. 
Frank Winter. Photo c/o Frank Winter.

In a four page review available online for subscribers of The Space Library, Frank Winter, the former curator of rocketry of the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, DC., stated:

We can no longer take it for granted that the consistently cited trio of founders of space flight theory—Tsiolkovsky, Goddard, and Oberth—were the only individuals who seriously thought and wrote about the rocket as the most viable means of achieving space flight…

William Leitch is less well known than the first three, but he should now be included in the overall picture, especially since he pre-dated them.”

David Baker. Photo BIS.

On studying Godwin’s findings David Baker, the editor of the British Interplanetary Society’s (BIS) Spaceflight Magazine said:

Rob Godwin has conducted a valuable piece of outstanding research, revealing for the first time how an intellectual mind from the 19th century anticipated the Space Age and explained how rockets could lift mankind to the stars, long before anyone else had defined it, in simple, lucid and scientifically accurate terms.

This work is a landmark addition to the history of rocketry and Godwin is to be complimented for having himself made another important contribution to the genre.

Michael Ciancone. Photo c/o LinkedIn.

In Houston Texas, Michael L. Ciancone, the chair of the American Astronautical Society (AAS) history committee, commented:

This paper by Robert Godwin puts flesh to the bone of William Leitch, a 19th century scientist and theologian who published some thoughts on rocketry that represent one of the earliest known references to the use of rockets for spaceflight. 

These perspectives are valuable because the history of spaceflight is a tapestry of experiences that contains more than the threads representing the big names in rocketry.

Dave Williams. Photo c/o McGill.

And in Toronto, Ontario, Dafydd “Dave” Williams, the retired Canadian astronaut (STS-90 and STS-118), former director of the space and life sciences directorate at the Johnson Space Center and current president and CEO of the Southlake Regional Health Centre called it:

A very impressive piece of research…& very exciting to learn that these principles of spaceflight were postulated & articulated so far before aerodynamic flight, let alone spaceflight.”

Godwin’s paper is being presented October 8th, 2015 in North Bay, Ontario as part of the annual World Space Week celebrations and is available online for subscribers of The Space Library.

For further information on the Space Library, William Leitch or to download a copy of Robert Godwin’s paper about “The First Scientific Concept of Rockets for Space Travel,” please contact Hugh Black at HMB Communications.

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Preserving our Space History: An Interview with Space Library Curator Robert Godwin

Posted September 28, 2015 by Chuck Black

          By Chuck BlackAs the owner and founder of Apogee Space Books, the space curator of the Canadian Air & Space Museum (CASM) and a frequent contributor to the Commercial Space blog, author Robert Godwin knows&nb…

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Part 9 of The Empire Strikes Out – Canada’s Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program

Posted September 10, 2015 by Chuck Black

RADARSAT & the Consequences for Canada’s Aircraft IndustryBy Robert GodwinThe general confusion during the late 1950s about the merits of missile defence led to several questionable strategic decisions made by the Governments of Canada and the Unit…

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David N. Caddey: A Driving Force in Canada’s Space Industry

Posted September 6, 2015 by Chuck Black
          By Chuck Black

Dave Caddey. Photo c/o AIAC.

David N. Caddey, the recently retired senior executive at Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA), who spent most of the last three decades managing the technical, economic and political issues associated with large space projects such as RADARSAT-2, has passed after a short illness.

As outlined in the November 19th, 2014 Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) post, “2014 James C. Floyd Award Recipient for Aerospace Excellence,” Mr. Caddey joined MDA in 1986 as project manager for all “major programs within the company.”

Given the broad mandate of the original title, it’s no wonder that, by 1997, Caddey knew most of the operational details of MDA projects and had a more than passing acquaintance with the intricacies of their funding mechanisms.

After periods as vice-president and general manager in both the fast growing MDA geo-information division and in the space and defense systems division, Caddey became the program manager for RADARSAT-2, in 1998. The following year, he was again promoted, this time to executive vice-president and general manager of the MDA space missions group, which was formed following MDA’s acquisition of Spar Aerospace’s Robotics Division.

Caddey was finally promoted to president of the MDA space missions group in 2002, but in 2004 he moved back into the special projects role, this time at the VP level. With one exception, a short stint as executive vice-president of and general manager of MDA’s surveillance and intelligence group from 2012 – 2014, Caddey remained the senior MDA troubleshooter until his retirement last year.

Dave Caddey presenting at the 2012 Innovation Nation Conference and Robotics competition, which was held in Huntsville, Ontario from July 9th – 10th, 2012. To view the complete presentation, please click on the image. Video and screenshot c/o InnovationNationCSII’s channel

From 2000 until 2014, Caddey fulfilled various roles on the AIAC board of directors and chaired the space working group during the 2012 Emerson aerospace review.

As outlined in the July 22nd, 2013 post, “Whatever Happened to the National Aerospace and Defence Framework?” Caddey was also involved in the 2007 National Aerospace and Defence Framework, another federal government review headed by David Emerson which, in so many ways, served as the test run for the later Emerson aerospace review.

More recently, as outlined in the June 1st, 2015 Defence Watch post, “Conservative government appoints defence procurement panel,” Caddey was appointed to the first federal independent review panel for defence acquisition, an “expert third-party panel,” created to review and assess requirements for all Department of National Defence (DND) projects valued over $100Mln CDN.

Marc Garneau. Photo c/o Wikipedia.

Prior to joining MDA, Caddey spent 19 years holding down a variety of technical and operational positions in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). This gave him a point of commonality with astronaut and colleague Marc Garneau, who served as president of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) from 2001 until 2005.

According to Garneau:

I worked with him on RADARSAT-2 and on other programs. We both had backgrounds in the military and similar mindsets.  

He was down to earth, direct and unlikely to beat around the bush when there were important issues needing to be dealt with. 

He was one of the driving forces in the Canadian space industry and performed the crucial function of providing important industry perspective…

Jim Quick. Photo c/o AIAC.

According to AIAC president and CEO Jim Quick:

Dave Caddey was a leader, visionary and dear friend to many of us, and we are all mourning his sudden, tragic passing. Dave was a major contributor to the development of some of Canada’s most advanced space systems projects and achievements over the last three decades, and his influence was felt across the industry. 

He was a long-standing AIAC Board member who held roles as board chairman, honourary treasurer, chair of the AIAC finance and audit committee, and chair of the space committee and the space working group during the Emerson review. 

For all of those contributions and more, it was our great pleasure to award him a James C. Floyd Award for Achievement in Aerospace at the Canadian Aerospace Summit in Ottawa last November. Dave leaves behind a legacy which most of us in this industry only aspire to. He will be deeply missed.

Don Osborne. Photo c/o MDA.

Don Osborne, the current president of MDA’s information systems group echoed that sentiment. According to Osborne:

Dave Caddey was an extraordinary person that will be profoundly missed. 

He leaves a remarkable legacy that will continue to significantly impact the space industry and MDA. 

His leadership, vision, tenacity and courage are renowned, but it is his wonderful sense of humour and passion to mentor that is at the forefront of what we will remember. 

Another colleague, UrtheCast president & chief operating officer Wade Larson said that:

It is difficult to even find the words to pay tribute to Dave Caddey. Recognizing that he made such a huge contribution to Canada’s space program is only part of his story. 

Wade Larson. Photo c/o Twitter.

He was a good man, fundamentally decent, generous, and principled.   

He loved to tell jokes and he loved to laugh.  He was a leader, mentor, role model and friend to so many people. 

He is profoundly missed.

All things considered, Dave Caddey has provided as important a legacy to Canada’s aerospace industry as any one of us is truly capable of.


Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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Part 8 of The Empire Strikes Out – Canada’s Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program

Posted September 3, 2015 by Chuck Black

The Diefenbaker Government Collapses

Diefenbaker recalls the Canadian Ambassador. February 1963. 

By Robert Godwin

The general confusion during the late 1950s about the merits of missile defence led to several questionable strategic decisions made by the Governments of Canada and the United Kingdom. 

The possibility of a third contestant in the Space Race, in the form of a Commonwealth space program hinged on the sharing of technology and financing amongst the various invested nations, but more significantly on the political choices made regarding the future defensive postures of Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Diefenbaker’s decision to not equip Bomarc with nuclear warheads would lead to an unparalleled rift between the USA and Canada. Demonstrating an almost breathtaking ignorance of the situation one of the options Diefenbaker’s cabinet had seriously considered was having the nuclear warheads delivered to Canada only in the case of an emergency. They would only be fitted to the delivery systems when required, apparently accepting the fact that the fallout would still rain down on Canada.[1] This option would however allow the Prime Minister the ability to say that he hadn’t been “proliferating.”

Diefenbaker had tried to put any nuclear weapons deployed in Canada under joint control so that neither Canada nor the United States could unilaterally use them without the other’s consent. It was however his stated preference to not have any at all while there were still disarmament discussions with the Soviets. He was also convinced that such joint control was all but impossible as long as the US law specifically precluded it.

This situation had festered until, just two days before the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy wrote to Diefenbaker. A vote was pending in the United Nations for a moratorium on nuclear weapons tests and Diefenbaker had decided to vote in favour of the moratorium. Kennedy wrote, “It will be tantamount to Canada’s abandoning the Western position…this will be seen by the Soviet Union as a successful breach of the Western position…I hope you will reconsider this decision to cast an affirmative vote for a resolution which can only cause damage.”

Two days later Kennedy went toe-to-toe with Kruschev and what Diefenbaker might have thought quickly became irrelevant.

In November 1962 meetings were held in Ottawa with the United States to determine how much warning there might be of a Soviet attack. The conclusion was three hours. If the Bomarcs were armed with warheads, but there was a “missing part” they could be armed in just less than two hours. This would therefore allow Canada to remain “nuclear free”. Diefenbaker thought this was the best option until someone in the US team suggested that if the “missing part” also remained in Canada the time could be reduced. Diefenbaker realized this was ridiculous and declined…

To Continue Reading Part 8 of 
“The Empire Strikes Out – Canada’s Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program”

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Robert Godwin.

Robert Godwin is the owner and founder of Apogee Space Books. He is also the Space Curator at the Canadian Air & Space Museum

He has written or edited over 100 books including the award winning series “The NASA Mission Reports” and appeared on dozens of radio and television programs in Canada, the USA and England as an expert not only on space exploration but also on music. 

His books have been discussed on CNN, the CBC, the BBC and CBS 60 Minutes. He produced the first ever virtual reality panoramas of the Apollo lunar surface photography and the first multi-camera angle movie of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. His latest book was written with the late Frederick I Ordway III and is called “2001 The Heritage and Legacy of the Space Odyssey” about the history of spaceflight at the movies.


1. Globe and Mail Feb 1 1963

Last Week: “Canada Rejects the Commonwealth Space Program,” in part seven of “The Empire Strikes Out – Canada’s Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program.”

Next Week: “RADARSAT & the Consequences for Canada’s Aircraft Industry,” as the final chapter of “The Empire Strikes Out – Canada’s Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program” concludes!

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Part 7 of The Empire Strikes Out – Canada’s Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program

Posted August 27, 2015 by Chuck Black

Canada Rejects the Commonwealth Space Program!960 newspapers article on BlueStreak.By Robert GodwinThe general confusion during the late 1950s about the merits of missile defence led to several questionable strategic decisions made by the Governments o…

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Part 6 of The Empire Strikes Out – Canada’s Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program

Posted August 20, 2015 by Chuck Black

BOMARC; the Blue Streak; the Blue Steel or the Douglas Skybolt and WoomeraBomarc missile cancellation. April 1960.By Robert GodwinThe general confusion during the late 1950s about the merits of missile defence led to several questionable strategic deci…

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Part 5 of The Empire Strikes Out – Canada’s Defence & The Commonwealth Space Program

Posted August 13, 2015 by Chuck Black

Replacing the Squadrons: the Arrow: its Cancellation and the Reasons Behind the DecisionAnnouncement that Lockheed F-104G converted to drone for target practice (August 1959).By Robert GodwinThe general confusion during the late 1950s about the merits …

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